If you’re wondering how to read to your toddler so they actually stay engaged in the book and want to read more, I know your struggle. I love reading with my kids, but when my son reached toddlerhood, capturing his attention and getting him to “sit still” for a moment was nearly impossible.
Reading to a wiggly toddler can be a challenge, but here are some ideas on how to read to an active toddler.
We love books at our house, and we have been reading daily to our children since they were infants. On those long, lonely days at home with my baby, whenever I wasn’t sure what to do next, I would just pull out another book. We’d read every day after breakfast. Then we’d play, nap, have lunch, play a little, and read a few more books. We’d read again at bedtime every night. My daughter has always had a naturally long attention span and would sit for several books in a row. When my son was born, I figured things would go about the same way. However, as any mother of more than one child knows, what works with one child does not always work with another.
My son did love for me to read to him when he was a baby, maybe because he was largely immobile, and he enjoyed the entertainment. Once he could move, he was on the go. His interest in books waned somewhat and then even more. I would read to him before nap and before bedtime, but even that was often difficult. My active toddler was moving and playing with toys while I was reading, and I felt like he wasn’t listening. I started working harder to capture his attention; and my husband was a natural at reading books with strong rhythm, such as Chicka Chicka Boom Boom and Pout Pout Fish. I think being persistent, although flexible, made a difference.
I am happy to say that at four and a half, my son is still incredibly active, but he enjoys books and will sit still for even relatively long stories when they interest him. Here’s what we did to keep my son engaged during storytime when he was a wiggly, wiggly toddler.
How to Read to an Active Toddler:
- Read books that have a rhyme or rhythm.
Colorful pictures accompanied by a strong rhythm are more captivating than a dull telling of a complicated story. We read some of the same books over and over emphasizing the rhythm. Some of the best books to read to active toddlers are books that rhyme or have a strong rhythm.
- Sing instead of read. Read song books, or just sing a book that has a rhythm to it.
Similar to reading with rhythm, we found that singing books were of great interest to my son. There is a beautiful Baby Beluga book based on the song by Raffi. We also amassed a collection of books from our Kindermusik classes in the early days. Zoo Train was a favorite at our house.
- Choose books that have lots of flaps, textures, or other interactive features.
Books with flaps and textures are also great books for active toddlers. Unfortunately, some of our flaps got torn off by my overly energetic toddler, but we would tape them back together, and they were great while they lasted. We really enjoyed Where Is Spot?, My Best Ever: ABC Alphabet Book, and Dear Zoo.
- Add some drama. Read enthusiastically and overly dramatically.
Of course, reading enthusiastically with anticipation and character voices is important when reading to any child, but it makes even more of a difference when reading to active toddlers. When we read Dear Zoo, I would roar loudly when my son opened the box with the lion, and when he opened the box with the jumpy frog, I would use my hand as a frog, jumping all over the bed and my son’s head, until he grabbed the frog and closed it back in the box.
- Read at the same time every day, so it’s an expected activity.
Choose one or two times of day to read to your toddler, and try to read consistently around those times of day. Toddlers thrive on routine, and they may be more receptive to storytime if it’s an expected part of their day and happens at the same time.
- Choose to read at quiet times, right before naps and bedtime.
If your child wakes up with tons of energy, don’t try to read first thing in the morning. Choose a time of day when there is a lull or after your child has been active. We always read before naps and before bedtime.
- Read to your toddler while he’s eating, during lunch or snack time.
In addition to reading at nap time and bed time, I also sometimes read to my toddlers during lunch, because they were already sitting still.
- Have a comfortable reading spot, where you read every day.
Having a consistent reading spot can also be good for active toddlers. To be honest, we didn’t really have a fancy reading corner. We often read on the floor next to the bookshelf. We had a bookshelf in each of my children’s bedrooms, and one in our living room. They could look at books any time on their own, and we’d often just end up reading on a pillow on the floor.
- Take your toddler to the library to pick out new books that interest him or her.
We had an excellent storytime at our local library with songs, a story and a craft. Either before or after, I would let my kids peruse the shelves and pick a few books for the week. The excitement over something new or some character they were enthralled with was sometimes enough to inspire them to read with me.
- Play on their current interests or obsessions—trains, puppies, etc.
The subject matter matters too. My son was (and still is) obsessed with trains, so Thomas the Train books were enticing, as were other books about trains or trucks, such as Steam Train Dram Train. The best books for toddlers are those that interest them, and different children have different interests. Make sure to cater to your child’s particular interests.
My bonus tip for how to read to an active toddler is to make reading time a conversation. Don’t just rush through the book. Talk about the pictures and the characters. Point to parts of the pictures while you read. Relate the story to things that happened in your toddler’s day. Have a conversation with your toddler, and have fun!
If you have an active toddler, be sure to check out my post on books my active toddler would sit still to read.